Retirements, A Party Switch And Death: Beacon Hill In 5

Feb 26, 2018

We learned recently that two veteran western Massachusetts legislators won't be seeking reelection, another representative left his party and late last week state Representative Peter Kocot of Northampton passed away.

To learn how are these changes are likely to be felt and realized on Beacon Hill, we turn to State House News Service Reporter Matt Murphy.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Starting with Rep. Peter Kocot, his passing last week certainly caught a lot of people by surprise. My understanding is that among his colleagues many of them hadn't even heard until very recently that he was ill, and did not expect this to happen so soon and so suddenly. And he was [a] well-respected, well-regarded lawmaker and a friend to many of them.

He held a pretty significant role as he was working to write what was supposed to be one of the major pieces of legislation on the agenda this year -- a health care cost saving bill -- so that is a bit in flux.

And the loss of him, as well as Rep. Steven Kulik -- who's the vice chair of Ways and Means in the House -- and the retirement of Rep. [John] Scibak, and, as you mentioned, [Rep.] Solomon Goldstein-Rose leaving the Democratic party, I mean: it does kind of throw the whole delegation from the region into flux.

And we're talking about people who were in leadership positions, and in positions of power here on Beacon Hill, that could use those to deliver for their districts.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: You mentioned that health care cost saving bill. Are lawmakers likely to be able to rebound from the loss of Kocot spearheading that, quickly, and be able to move on?

How quickly they move on: I would be surprised if this didn't cause some kind of delay. There has been talk that they were going to try and take up a bill before they debate their budget in April. I don't know if that's any longer possible.

But certainly, vice-chairman [Rep. Jeffrey] Roy is still there, and is aware of and involved in was going on in the committee. The staff has been working on this bill themselves, and there will be continuity there.

I'm sure the Speaker [of the House, Bob DeLeo] will want to get a chairperson into that position quickly, because we've seen that moving major pieces of legislation this session has been something of a grind.

Not a lot of big things have gotten done, and they certainly don't want this to fall by the wayside in an election year, when they're looking for accomplishments to point to.

We're just a few days away from a deadline for a report back from the House counsel, who was tasked with analyzing the current sexual harassment policy and climate. That order came last fall after sexual harassment allegations rocked the Statehouse. Is this report likely to put the sexual harassment issue to rest -- at least in the House -- and enable lawmakers to focus on that legislative agenda?

Maybe at least in the House, but unfortunately I don't think Beacon Hill is going to move past this issue any time soon.

As you mentioned, so far, a lot of the discussion about this issue and problems in the Statehouse with workplace environments or around sexual harassment, has been focused on the Senate, but I don't think it's entirely confined to the Senate. And I don't think people believe that either.

The House counsel has been the talking to legislators and staff about policies and ways to strengthen that, and he is due to report by March 1 with his recommendations.

We're expecting to see at least some efforts to strengthen the policies around protecting interns. There are many of them who cycle in and out of this building, and are currently not protected.

We have seen proposals to kind of create independent authorities to receive, and investigate and vet allegations of sexual harassment, or other office workplace violations. There could be some recommendations around that issue.

We don't know just yet what House counsel Jim Kennedy's thinking, but those are some of the topics we know he's been exploring.

Beacon Hill in 5 -- our weekly check-in at the State House -- is now a podcast. You can subscribe to it wherever you get your podcasts.